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Captain Brenda Berkman

Captain Brenda Berkman

Captain Brenda Berkman permanently changed the face of firefighting. A nationally and internationally recognised trailblazer for women in non-traditional employment, she won the US federal sex discrimination lawsuit in 1982 that changed history by breaking down barriers to women firefighters. She has founded and led several national organisations of women firefighters and has relentlessly fought sexism and gender stereotypes and was featured in the landmark PBS documentary Makers: Women Who Make America (2013).

From 1978-1982, she worked as a lawyer specialising in employment and immigration law, including pro bono representation of applicants seeking asylum. She gave up her career in law in order to become a firefighter. Despite the discrimination that was directed at her personally because of the lawsuit, Berkman was promoted to Lieutenant and then Captain in the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY). She was the first woman firefighter to serve on several committees of the National Fire Protection Association. In 1996-1997, Capt. Berkman served as a White House Fellow, the first professional firefighter (female or male) to be awarded this prestigious leadership development fellowship in the history of the programme. A first responder on 9/11, Capt. Berkman led efforts to ensure that the role of female responders were recognised equally with their male counterparts.

Following her retirement after 25 years in firefighting, she continues to advocate for women firefighters locally, nationally, and internationally while promoting and supporting other non-traditional roles for women. Capt. Berkman’s pioneering efforts have been recognised through the many awards she has received and has been featured in many films, interviews and books.

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